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The Village (2004)
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

review by Christopher Geary

Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix, Gladiator) volunteers to leave his idyllic home village and journey to the nearest towns, in search of medical supplies to save the lives of locals threatened by - supposedly curable - ills. His request is denied by Edward Walker (William Hurt), senior figure and nominal leader of the villagers, perhaps to favour Lucius' mother Alice (Sigourney Weaver, former action heroine Ripley in the Alien movies, now apparently part of the rural community's sewing circle!), but also to strictly enforce the village's rule that no soul must enter the surrounding forest where, local legend has it, malevolent and ferocious creatures lurk. When the - insultingly stereotyped? - village idiot Noah (Adrien Brody) commits a particularly heinous crime, brave yet blind heroine Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard) is unaccountably granted permission by her father Edward to venture through the dark woods to fetch help. What she discovers in the forest and beyond its boundaries is almost beyond her understanding...
finding a bad colour in The Village
The period setting (late-19th century Pennsylvania?) is skilfully evoked and the drama's fairy-tale ambience works brilliantly right up until the eagerly anticipated - though somewhat conventional in SF terms - narrative twist (suffice to say that, for obvious reasons, the less stated here about the film's milieu, the more chance this review has of avoiding a spoiler alert warning). However, there is a major problem with the intrigue of The Village. Despite the effectiveness of its wholly sinister atmosphere, the scenario defies credibility or the willing suspension of disbelief, once the secret of the plot is revealed. Instead of advertising blurb: "the truce is ending," I'd be tempted to give this a less blatantly deceptive tagline like 'innocence lives in fear'.
Joaquin Phoenix in The Village
In previous works The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, director M. Night Shyamalan (watch for his cameo appearance towards the end of this film) imbues his engaging dramas with elements of menace, looming tragedy and sinister ambiguity, and offers audiences the challenge of a mystery to be solved. In those films, the director purposely withheld vital information to ensure that sufficient tension is generated before a sudden 'revelation' changes our perspective and understanding of the story and its characters. Here, for the first time, the filmmaker misleads viewers with an outright lie. This smacks of 'authorial' arrogance, and engenders distrust. Effectively, the director puts his audience in the same lowly position as the young adults in the film (who are being cruelly deceived by their well-meaning but deeply troubled parents).

A lie is not simply the opposite of a fact; it's also contradictory to something that's true. Although we might consider all fiction is commonly about 'lying', essentially it is more about the creative use of imagination (absolute lies are usually tolerated only in satire) and, in fact, 'great fiction' (which, for instance, Unbreakable aspired to be) may present us with a vital human truth, often in a more convenient and acceptable form than any interpretative account of real life events. No one likes to be fooled. Ironically, The Village delivers a lie that is wholly unnecessary within the narrative, and so I think Shayamalan may lose some of his fans and followers because of the storytelling error in this uninspired picture (he's certainly lost my admiration for his skill and talent). Undeniably, I think, The Village undermines his worth and popular standing as one of Hollywood's foremost purveyors of quirky yet intelligent and thought-provoking, cross-genre mystery cinema.

What saves this film from a lower rating and dismissive commentary, are the strong performances from elder Hurt and younger Howard, and the intriguing possibility of interpreting the drama as a bitingly satirical, political allegory of post-millennial America (although the lie actually works against viewing the story in such terms). Does the 'Village' represent a fearful and isolationist America, haunted to distraction by the 11th September tragedy, and hiding from its demonised 'bogeymen' enemies? You decide.
The Village poster

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The Village



Bryce Dallas Howard as blind Ivy

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